By JEFF AMY
JACKSON, Miss. (AP) _ Mississippi’s unemployment rate rose to worst in the nation at 7.9 percent in June, as the state’s economic recovery lags behind others.
Gov. Phil Bryant, who has made economic development a central focus, acknowledged the poor figure but said Mississippi’s economy has improved since he took office.
“It’s not going as fast as I want it to either, but it looks a lot better than it did in December 2011,” the first-term Republican said.
The state’s unemployment rate rose from 7.7 percent in May, while falling from 8.7 percent a year ago. In January 2012, when Bryant was sworn in, the state’s unemployment rate was 9.4 percent. The jobless rate decline since stems mostly from people leaving the labor force.
The unemployment rate is calculated by a survey that asks how many people are looking for a job. A second survey each month asks employers how many people are on their payrolls, a measure many economists use as their top labor market indicator.
Mississippi’s nonfarm payrolls fell by 400 to 1.12 million in June. Payrolls had risen in May to their highest point since the recession began, up 2 percent since Bryant took office. But Mississippi employers still report 3.5 percent fewer workers than in February 2008, the all-time high.
Both sets of figures _ adjusted to cancel out seasonal changes _ were released Friday by the U.S. Labor Department.
Economic forecasting firm IHS projects Mississippi won’t surpass its previous peak payroll employment until 2016 or 2017, putting it among the slowest-recovering states.
Bryant attributed the slowness of Mississippi’s recovery to a surplus of residents who aren’t sufficiently educated or trained, which he said he was trying to change.
“I think a lot of them have dropped out of school, a lot of them are not properly trained for advanced manufacturing” Bryant said. “We haven’t done as good a job as we should in training workers for the future.”
Friday’s report found 100,400 Mississippians were unemployed in June, up more than 2,000 from May but down from 112,000 in June 2013. The labor force fell in June, but the number of people who reported they had a job fell even faster, driving up theunemployment rate.
Rhode Island also had a 7.9 percent jobless rate in June, but its rate was slightly lower than Mississippi when calculations extend past one decimal place. North Dakota retained the lowest unemployment rate at 2.8 percent. Jobless rates fell in 22 states, rose in 14 and were flat in 14.
The national unemployment rate fell to 6.1 percent in June from 6.3 percent in May. That’s also lower than the 7.5 percent rate in June 2013.
Employment fell in Mississippi in sectors including trade, transportation and utilities; professional and business services; construction and manufacturing. Payrolls rose in education and health services, leisure and hospitality, financial activities and government.
Online: State employment report: http://1.usa.gov/104hKGL